Eat, drink & shop in Shanghai French Concession

Posted on March 31, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 2 comment(s)

The former French Concession in Shanghai is a large and historical where you will find beautiful colonial architecture, Western-style eateries, cafes and bars as well as glossy shopping malls and independent shops selling fashion, gifts, furniture, design and home accessories.

This is not a comprehensive guide, it is only a rough guide to some of the shops in the area:


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2nd row: Retro Revo; 3nd row left: Casa Casa; 3rd row middle & right: Brut Cake; Bottom: Piling Palang


Anfui Lu:

Piling Palang (no.183) - Founded in 2009 by Chinese designer, Deng Bingbing, the colourful objects here are inspired by ancient Chinese symbolic motifs, patterns and shapes. Most of products are skillfully crafted by local craftsmen using ceramic, cloisonné or lacquer, and are infused with contemporary elements to create decorative or functional pieces.

Casa Casa (no. 201) - A furniture store featuring a selection of modern and classic furniture and home accessories from top international designer brands.

Brut Cake (no.232) Founded by Taiwanese designer, Nicole Teng, most of the home accessories here are handmade from recycled materials. There are also reclaimed/re-upholstered furniture and ceramics with a rustic feel. The products and even the shop's interior feel very Japanese as I could imagine walking into a shop like this in Tokyo's Yanaka district... hence, to find a shop like this in the middle of Shanghai was a pleasant surprise!

Retro Revo (no.248) is a British company specialises in handmade industrial European and American vintage designs including furniture, lighting, carpets and accessories. Inspired from the Industrial Revolution era, all their products are newly produced by craftsmen outside of China, hence, most of them come with hefty price tags.


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Top: Baker & Spice cafe; 2nd row left: Sunflour bakery & cafe; 2nd row right: La Mer cafe; Bottom row left: Vinyl Ganesh; Bottom row middle: Wagas


There are also several bakeries/ cafe on this road including Baker & Spice (no.195) and Sunflour Bakery & cafe (no.322). Located not far away is Wagas (7 Dong Hu Rd), a popular cafe chain which also owns Baker & Spice. To be honest, I find these Western bakeries and cafes in Shanghai pretty pricey while the food is just mediocre. I couldn't help thinking that in the nearby cities like Hong Kong or Taipei, I could get better quality food at much cheaper prices.

Vinyl Ganesh (No 5, 438 Shanxi Nan Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu) is another relaxing and comfortable cafe that has a Taiwanese vibe and lots of books available for browsing and reading. The service was pleasant and the coffee was not bad but priced between 40-60 RMB, the coffees are pricier than similar cafes in London, Hong Kong and even Tokyo! I am not sure how much locals earn in Shanghai, but hanging out in cafes seem like an extravagant activities here!


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Top left, middle & 2nd row left: Shanghai Lan-Lan Chinese handprinted blue nankeen; Bottom left: Song Fang Maison de the; bottom middle: Madame Mao's Dowry


On Fumin Lu, there is a retro gift shop, Madame Mao's Dowry (no.207) that sells propaganda posters, memorabilia and homeware from the Mao period, along with contemporary fashion and jewellery from local and international designers.

In the evening, my friend took me to Dr Wine (no.177), a 2-storey chic French wine bar for drinks and snacks one evening. The place was packed with expats, and although the wine and cheese was good, I found the noise level and smoke (smoking is not banned in Shanghai) quite unbearable, hence we did not stay long there.

Along Julu Lu, there are many independent fashion shops, including a few interesting menswear shops. There is an interesting Russian/literature-theme cafe on this road called La Mer (no.677), own and run by a friendly Chinese lady who spent 20 years living in Moscow. Although the ambience is spacious and relaxing, I found the service slow and patchy. But thanks to the hospitable owner, I was able to explore the beautiful colonial building (now home of the Literature club, which I will write about on the next blog entry) behind the cafe.

Other interesting shops in the area include:

Shanghai Lan-Lan Chinese handprinted blue nankeen (no.24 Lane, 637 Chang Le Road) is well hidden in a small lane off the quiet Changle Road. There is a pleasant garden outside of the 2-storey old villa, and once inside, you will find a big showroom full of handprinted blue nankeen products. The traditional dying technique uses a starch-resist method, indigo dye and cotton fabrics to produce primitive but artistic textiles that can be turned into clothing, fashion accessories, soft home furnishings as well as wall hangings. The sales woman was not very friendly initially, it was only when I showed interest in purchasing and asked her for the prices (most of the prices are not displayed for some reason) that she became friendlier! The products here are not cheap but they are unique and of high quality, hence, I ended up buying a few items for myself and as gifts. Next to the shop's showroom is Shanghai's Hand-printed Blue Batik Museum founded by an old Japanese woman, Kubo Masa, and it records the revival of this traditional Chinese craftsmanship.


Spin (360 Kangding Rd, near Shaanxi Bei Lu) Founded in 2004 by art director Gary Wang, Spin is an art gallery featuring beautiful, minimalist and reasonably-priced pottery, designed and made in-house.


Triple Major (25 Shaoxing Lu) is a 4-storey conceptual fashion/lifestyle store that sells quirky fashion and accessories by independent designers/labels such as  Daniel Palillo, Lazy Oaf, Henrik Vibskov, and emerging local talents. The shop also sell Japanese ceramics, magazines and books published by independent publishers. The founder, Ritchie Chan, is a Hong Kong native who used to study in L.A. and this shop in Shanghai is his second outlet after his first in Beijing and an online outlet.


Song Fang Maison de Thé (227 Yongjia Lu) is a 2-storey tea house set up by a Parisian Florence Samson 10 years ago. It is hard to miss the bold blue graphic banner from the exterior, and once inside, you will find this cool graphics being used as tea containers and as gift packaging. As much as I like the graphics, I find the gifts sets quite pricey, but if you want to bring back souvenir to impress family and friends, then this place has some good options. The tea house is located on the first floor.


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Top left: Cold noodles at Noodle Bull; Top right: steamed fish head with chillies at Guyi; 2nd row left: steam bun; 2nd row middle: Xinjiang style hash brown at Xibo; 2nd row right, Main & bottom right: a noodle bar; Bottom left: the famous Shanghainese xiaolongbao


While walking around the French Concession, I was hoping to find some authentic and 'hygienic-looking' street stalls selling local fares, but this proved to be a very difficult task. It seems easier to find croissants than dumplings in this area! Finally one morning, I stumbled upon a few food shops near the corner of Xiangyang Lu & Changle Lu (with many locals queuing outside) selling a variety of steamed buns, dumplings, scallion/sesame pancakes and sheng jian bao (fried buns/dumplings with pork and broth inside) etc. I had a sesame pancake and a vegetable bun, both were tasty and a lot cheaper than the bakeries/cafes down the road.

At lunch time, I found a small noodle bar (not sure of its English name) on Yanqing Road, the place has a rustic/industrial feel to it and it serves handmade noodles (served with kimchi) at reasonable prices.

The Art deco Ferguson Lane (376 Wukang Lu, near Tai'an Lu) is the home to several coffee shops, wine bars, beauty shops, fashion boutiques, art gallery, patisserie and restaurants.. I met my friends at the spacious Azul Tapas Lounge, a restaurant owned by the popular Peruvian restaurateur/chef, Eduardo Vargas. The dishes on the menu has Spanish, South American, and Mediterranean influences, but I did not detect the Spanish influences in the dishes we ordered nor did I think they were in tapas sizes either! However, the quality of food and wine was very good, and the service was fairly efficient, so overall we had an enjoyable meal there.

Guyi (87 Fumin Lu) is an institution in Shanghai serving Hunan dishes (often spicy) and it is very popular among locals and expats. We had to queue for 10 minutes even though it was almost 9pm when we arrived. However, the food was worth the wait, and the steamed fish head with chilies (see above) is a must (even for the squeamish).

If you are looking for something unique, then Xibo (3F, 85 Changshu Lu) is a good choice as it serves Uyghur cuisine from the Xinjiang region of China. The contemporary setting and view attract many expats, and the food is interesting and tasty. The restaurant also donates 25% of its profits to support charitable organisations in western China.


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Shops in Tianzifang


Similar to Xintiandi (which I found very commercial during my last visit, hence I skipped it this time), Tianzifang (off Taikang Road) has been transformed into a popular tourist destination from the regeneration of a former residential district. The neighborhood was originally built in the 1930s as a Shikumen ( a traditional 2/3-storey Shanghainese building) residential district. It was saved from demolition in 2006 thanks to the help of local residents and business owners.

Now the maze-like area has more than 200 small businesses from shops to cafes, bars, restaurants and art galleries etc. Although this area is very touristy and busy, it is quite interesting to spend a few hours getting lost here. There are many interesting shops selling fashion, arts and crafts, stationery and vintage/retro objects.


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Main & bottom left: Taste shop space; 2nd row left: traditional Chinese dolls at Old Shanghai; 2nd row right: Alan Chan creations; Bottom middle: Sky music box


The highlights of the area are as follows:

Sky Music Box (35 Tianzifang, Lane 248 Taikang Lu, near Sinan Lu) is a small shop/museum (accessible via some steep & narrow staircase) that sells and exhibits a wide range of handcrafted (some slightly kitsch) music boxes. It is a very unique place!

Old Shanghai (I am not sure of the English name of this shop... but it's at Room 112, no.3, 200 Taikang Lu) - I wanted to buy every item in this shop! I love the 94 year old Shanghainese illustrator/ comic artist, He Youzhi's illustrations of old Shanghai. Not only you will find his comic books, post card sets but there are different merchandise that feature his wonderful illustrations. On the first floor, there are also traditional Chinese dolls on display/ for sale.

Taste shop space (Room 105, Building: 3rd, Lane 210, Taikang Rd) - Founded by photographer Viko Wu and her Japanese fashion designer husband, Yutaka  last year. Taste shop is a lifestyle shop that sells homeware, furniture, antiques, lighting and fashion accessories. The shop also stock many handcrafted designs including Futagami and Eclectic by Tom Dixon.


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Top right, bottom left & middle: Cafe Dan; Bottom right: interesting Korean snack


Cafe Dan (no.41, Lane 248 Taikang Lu) - a well-known cafe in Tianzifang that is owned and run by a Japanese, Taka, who is quite obsessed with coffee. I love the quiet/rustic style and relaxing atmosphere, but again, there is a price to pay for this... around £10-12 for a cup of coffee and cafe, which I find extraordinary expensive for a rustic-looking cafe!


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The exterior and interior of Liuli China Museum; 3rd row left: cafe Xiao San Tang; 3rd row right: The shop also sells the Shuriken magnets from Taiwan; Bottom right: MoCA Shop at People's park


Liuli China Museum (25 Taikang Road) is a huge 4-storey glass building located right opposite Tianzifang. Founded in 2006 by by renowned glass artist and sculptor Loretta Hui-shan Yang and her husband Zhang Yi, the building not only houses a museum dedicated to glassware from China (all eras) and the rest the world, but there is also a Xiao San Tang and a shop that sells glassware, design and craft objects and books etc.

Another museum shop that is worth checking out is the MoCa shop at the entrance of People's Park, 231 Nanjing West Road. I tried to get into The Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai (MOCA) on Saturday (bad idea!) but gave up immediately when I saw a queue outside in the rain. However, I quite enjoyed browsing in their small shop by the park entrance where you can find design objects created by local designers and design/museum exhibition-related books.


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10 Corso Como at Wheelock Square; 3rd row middle, right and bottom right: Marcel Wanders' exhibition at the gallery; Bottom left: the exterior of nearby shopping mall


Surrounding the famous Jian'an Temple on the West Nanjing Road are highrises and shopping malls (what contradictions!), and one of new design destinations in the area is 10 Corso Como (North Annex, Wheelock Square 1717 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Huashan Lu, Jing'an) which opened at the end of last year. I am sure most people who are interested in fashion/design would not have missed the institution, 10 Corso Como when visiting Milan. Opened in 1990 by former fashion editor Carla Sozzani, this gallery/lifestyle & fashion concept store was the forefront of its kind, years before Colette in Paris and Dover Street market in London. I have previously visited their former shop in Tokyo (in collaboration with Comme des Garçons) and their original branch in Seoul, but this new shop in Shanghai is bigger (2,500sqm) than I expected. The 4-storey mecca (notice that 4th floor on the map above has been renamed as '5th' due to Chinese superstition!) designed by Kris Ruhs not only sells fashion, jewellery, beauty products, art and design objects, books but there are also patisserie, café, restaurant and gallery.

Honestly, I was quite disappointed with this store because it is too glossy and 'perfect', obviously it is targeting the wealthy and local hipsters/creatives with growing spending power, yet it is formulaic without surprises... This is not what I expect from a successful brand that has changed the way we shop today.


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Top left: Prada shop on Nan Jing Xi Lu; the rest: shops at the basement of Reel Mall


In the nearby Reel Mall (1601 Nanjing West Rd, Jing'an), it is home to many international luxury fashion brands, but the more interesting (in my opinion) shops are hidden in its basement near the popular food court. I would not have found this place if it wasn't for the host of my apt because it is quite hidden. But there are many small independent shops selling fashion, jewellery and design objects made by local designers, and one of them is wtf* bikes, a local bicycle brand that sells very cool-looking bike frames and rims.


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Shanghai Propanganda poster art centre


Aside from shopping, dining and drinking in the former French Concession, there are also many galleries and museums and one of my favourite in the area is The Shanghai Propangda poster art center (Rm BOC, Basement, Block B, No.868 Huashan Road) hidden inside a residential block. (Tip: ask the security guard at the front entrance and he will give you a card with a small map that will direct you to the entrance). This gallery is really one of a kind and you will need at least an hour to go through the vast collection even though the gallery itself is not very big. These propaganda posters are very rare now because most of them were destroyed due to political changes over the years. The posters are important documentations that record the history of China in 20th century, and not surprisingly Mao is the key figure. Aside from posters and memorabilia, there are also school text books and magazines, but most surprisingly, some of the magazine covers (and some posters) reveal a very open-minded/ Westernised China where female nudity was acceptable... how fascinating! Next to the gallery is a small shop where you can find reproductions of the posters, books and souvenir.


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Shanghai museum of arts & crafts


Located inside a beautiful French Renaissance mansion, the Shanghai museum of arts & crafts (79 Fenyang Rd, near Taiyuan Rd) could be so much better... The museum showcases exquisite jade, wood, ivory, bamboo carvings, paper-cutting art work, lacquer ware, porcelain, embroidery, textiles and traditional clay dolls etc. There are also artists at work where visitors can see the production processes, yet when I was there, the artists/craftsmen were not doing much (one was even napping) and the display lacked information, the museum certainly needs a better curator... Even the display in the shop's showroom lacks aesthetic appeal, it reminds me some touristy souvenir shops except for the high prices.


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Kunst. Licht Photo Art Gallery 


I stumbled upon Kunst. Licht Photo Art Gallery (210, North Ulumuqi Road, Jing'an) and I immediately felt very relaxed as I stepped into this 2-room and rather understated gallery dedicated to photography, which features established and emerging artists from China and abroad. The building itself is also quite interesting and has some art deco architectural features that compliment the colourful and bold photographs on the white walls.


This post was posted in Coffee, Food & dining, Exhibitions, Architecture, Shopping, Shopping guide, Travel, Chinese design, Traditional arts & crafts, Shanghai, Design, Colonial architecture and was tagged with Coffee, Food & dining, art and design exhibitions, shopping, fashion, traditional crafts, chinese design, Shopping guide, Shanghai

2 Responses to Eat, drink & shop in Shanghai French Concession

  • Great to see this fresh look at the sites and scenes in French Concession. There is so much hidden treasure waiting to be discovered in the quiet back streets of Shanghai! Well done.

    Posted on April 20, 2014 at 3:05 am

  • Rebecca says:

    Hi Ian, thank you for your comment! Yes, there is a lot of hidden treasure in Shanghai, being a bit nosey will bring unexpected surprises sometimes!

    Posted on April 20, 2014 at 11:43 am